Africa’s largest gaming event, the annual rAge Expo, is upon us yet again. A veritable gaming paradise awaits both casual gamers and hardcore esports fans alike within the Galaxy of Geek housed in the Ticketpro Dome located in northern Johannesburg.

Known last year as the Telkom Digital Gaming League Masters Finals, now rebranded as VS Gaming Masters, this year’s tournament is a little bit different. Last year’s edition offered a cumulative R1 million prize pool between both Dota 2 and CS:GO. This year Dota 2 finished their season at the finals at EGE Expo in late July, which leaves CS:GO to take pride of place alone on the main stage at rAge for the hefty R550,000 prize pool. The same amount was in place for the Dota 2 tournament for an eye-watering total of R1,1 million between both titles for 2017.

Did someone say money?

This year’s prize breakdown:

  • First place – R220,000
  • Second place – R99,000
  • Third place – R55,000
  • Fourth place – R44,000
  • Fifth place – R38,500
  • Sixth place – R38,500
  • Seventh place – R27,500
  • Eighth place – R27,500

The stakes are indeed high for the teams participating!

The NAG article announcing the prize distribution and broadcast talent got the number slightly off for 6th place in case you spotted that difference. 😉

Ashton “Golz” Muller won’t be playing at this one, but he will be in the commentary booth with Kyle “Congo” Wolmarans. Photo courtesy of Madmatt.

The teams in pursuit of the ultimate prize

Here are the participating teams and their official seeding in the competition:

  1. Damage Control
  2. xTc Gaming
  3. eXdee Gaming
  4. Veneration E-Sports
  5. Aperture Gaming
  6. Ventus Gaming
  7. White Rabbit Gaming
  8. Pulse Gaming

Some points that bear thinking about

With the last VS Master CS:GO action taking place in early July, it’s quite difficult to make accurate judgments on many of these teams’ potential placings going into this tournament. Most lineups have undergone significant changes in terms of players since then. Three months is a veritable eternity in esports.

In some cases the best we can make is educated guesses based on our knowledge of the players and their placements in other tournaments. With the lack of data and VODs available on these teams, it certainly doesn’t make it easier. Recent competitions featuring the majority of these teams such as Orena Championship Series or ESEA have not been broadcast. The only exceptions are Damage Control, xTc Gaming and eXdee that participated in ESL Africa Season Two and Pulse Gaming that recently won the Mettlestate Matrix Maverick Challenge tournament.

Team Breakdown

For this I enlisted the help of one the best Counter-Strike brains in the country: James zerOch4Nce” Wijnberg. Recently retired as captain and in-game leader of Flipsid3 Tactics South Africa after a long and decorated career in Counter-Strike, James is the ideal man to offer his expert opinion.

James “zerOch4Nce” Wijnberg being interviewed by Rob Forbes earlier this year at Mettlestate’s Samsung Galaxy CS:GO Championship Finals. Photo courtesy of zerOch4Nce.

Damage Control

axtremes: In my previous article about Damage Control, I said this tournament represents their best possible chance of winning a tournament in CS:GO. They have unmatched experience, tremendous skill and the hunger to win. Anything less than first place is a failure for them.

  • Prediction: Winner, winner steak dinner.

zerOch4Nce: DC definately have the composure and class to win this tournament, they just need to warm up sufficiently before games (hehe).

Player to watch: stYle.

  • Prediction: First.

xTc Gaming

Recently in a rebuilding phase after the loss of three of their players, xTc have looked much improved in recent weeks despite initially being underwhelming in ESL Africa Season Two. I believe their mindset going into the tournament is far better than past LANs. It remains to be seen whether xTc can break their run of bad results at offline tournaments. I think they’ve changed enough within the team to do so, although I might also be crazy.

  • Prediction: Pipped at the last hurdle. Second place.

This is a hard one, XiN’s style of calling might take more time with the new players they picked up which may lead to issues during the tournament. Their new players need to step up and feel comfy.

Player to watch: cr1ck.

  • Prediction: Third/Fourth.

eXdee Gaming

With the loss of Spoof they’ve looked far less sure of themselves in ESL Africa Season Two. That being said, they still have the experience and the firepower to have a good run at VS Masters.

  • Prediction: A place on the podium.

I expect this team with all its firepower to be in the final, my only concern with them is individuals not pitching up on the day. They don’t have a lot of team-based plays to fall back on.

Player to watch: blaZe.

  • Prediction: Second.

Veneration E-Sports

They looked very good at the Orena ESWC 2017 Qualifiers at Rush Expo, giving Energy a hard time on Saturday night in the semi finals. It has been two months, but I feel this Vnr lineup could very well replicate that sort of form again considering the aimers the have at their disposal as well as the return of BaNaNaZz from retirement for this LAN.

  • Prediction: Fourth/Fifth.

Very similar to xD with regards to firepower and teamwork. I battle to see this lineup doing well unless individuals are allowed to shine.

Player to watch: BaNaNaZz.

  • Prediction: Fourth/Fifth.

Aperture Gaming

They had great run at VS Masters in July. They beat eXdee before being knocked out by WRG. Kazamir had a good LAN but has since moved on to Pulse. His replacement, Schizzy, is however equally potent. They have the aimers, but I’m just not sure how good their synergy will be.

  • Prediction: Fifth/Sixth.

Really unsure of how well this team is going to do. They are my wild card.

Player to watch: Dyvo.

  • Prediction: Anything from podium to Sixth/Seventh.

Ventus Gaming

Ventus were looking like a real force before losing Crick, Maniaq and ZipZip to xTc. They have plenty of experience in seasoned campaigner uNreal, but I think a top placing might be a bridge too far for them at this early stage of the lineup.

  • Prediction: Seventh/Eighth.

Great leader in Unreal with tons of LAN experience but i feel the new players need more time to show their true potential.

Player(s) to watch: rMp/uNreal.

  • Prediction: Seventh/Eighth.

White Rabbit Gaming

WRG had a massive over performance at the last VS Masters tournament, taking a map off DC and finishing in fourth place. They could very well replicate that form at this LAN. They are my dark horse team for the competition that could as easily wreak havoc as they could fail.

  • Prediction: A place in the semi-finals or a place amongst the also rans. Flip a coin.

A lot of LAN experience between the players, however they lack the overall firepower in my opinion.

Player to watch: Puffy.

  • Prediction: Fifth/Sixth.
Kyle “Pacman10154” Swart of Pulse Gaming setting up with his teammates at the Orena ESWC 2017 Qualifiers at Rush Expo in July. Photo courtesy of Madmatt.

Pulse Gaming

The recent comfortable winners of the Mettlestate Matrix Maverick Challenge, they will be coming into the tournament with a lot of confidence. Maverick however was a lower tier competition and it will require a significant jump in performance here to place well. It worries me a little that star player Kazamir is also the caller. This adds additional pressure on the player and makes it tough to frag consistently high. They could do well, but for them right now anything above last place would be a good result.

  • Prediction: Seventh/Eighth.

A young team who have showed they can play under pressure at LAN. However I think this stage might be too big at this point in their development. If DC aren’t 100% warmed up they could cause an upset though otherwise I see them having a hard time.

Player to watch: Kazimir.

  • Prediction: Seventh/Eighth.

The opening matches

Unofficial VS Gaming Schedule

Opening match predictions

Damage Control vs Pulse Gaming

axtremes: DC

zerOch4Nce: DC

xTc Gaming vs White Rabbit Gaming

axtremes: xTc

zerOch4Nce: xTc

eXdee Gaming vs Ventus Gaming
axtremes: xD

zerOch4Nce: xD

Aperture Gaming vs Veneration E-Sports

axtremes: VNR

zerOch4Nce: APG

If you’d like to watch a more detailed video breakdown of the VS Gaming Masters 2017 Finals, here’s just such a thing with myself and Profeci: